Lets face it, there are a lot of “computer guys” out there. It’s no secret that the IT industry is growing and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The demand is there and the money is good.
However, not every computer guy is created equal. Just because you have a degree related to computers, you solve all your friend’s computer problems in less than 15 minutes, and you can hack into the pentagon, doesn’t mean you’re cut out to start your own computer repair business.
Since starting my business, many customers I service seem to be relieved when they realize that I’m not out to make a quick buck, and that I can speak to them about their computer in terms that they can understand and relate to. Some have even related to me the pains they’ve experienced at the hands of some other computer guys that they’ve worked with in the past. Couple these experiences with the fact that, through interviews on this website and other encounters with successful computer techs, I’ve noticed that there are some characteristics that make certain independent computer consultants really stand out among the competition.
There are many obvious traits that one must posses in order to be a successful independent computer consultant. You must have people skills, business savvy, and broad technical knowledge. But that’s just the beginning.
Be a Teacher – It’s one thing to show up at a customer’s home, fix their computer problem, collect your check, and take off. It’s another level entirely when you take a moment to explain to them what went wrong and how they can prevent it in the future. Most service calls you make should be accompanied by some form of training for the user. This will help instill a sense of trust with your customers, not only will they feel like you truly have their best interest at heart, but they’ll be excited about the extra bonus they’re getting with their service.
Don’t pass up opportunities to teach your customer how to do different things with their computer. Make it free of charge at first. Then, when you feel you’re comfortable in the role of trainer, start offering classes in things like how to use the latest version of windows, or how to back up data.
Have The Patience of a Saint – Computers are frustrating pieces of machinery. Add frustrated customers who wouldn’t know a a right-click from a hole-in-the-wall, multiply by the amount of technical knowledge you posses, and you have the formula for a bitter and jaded computer tech. You’re going to see the same problems over and over again, from the same customers over and over again, and it’s going to wear you down.
It’s important to keep perspective on things when you’re in the trenches. You’ve got to constantly tell yourself that if it weren’t for these issues, you wouldn’t be in business. Always greet customers with a smile and always take the time to listen to what they have to say. Don’t interrupt them or correct them. Think about how you’re going to explain an issue and stop yourself when you feel like you’re getting too technical. It’s little things like this that make a big impact on customers.
Many company IT guys don’t understand the importance of patience because their corporate customers have no choice but to turn to them when a computer issue arises. Once the customer is given a choice, they’ll choose a tech that makes them feel comfortable and one that doesn’t talk down to them. Learn to be that tech.
Never Stop Learning – In my last interview, Bryce Whitty told us that he feels the single most important trait for a computer technician to have is a desire to never stop learning. I concur 100%. The computer industry grows fast and furious and you’re going to need to constantly sharpen your skills as a tech in order to stay on top.
Many computer techs learn what they need to learn in school and then they seem to feel like they’ll be able to keep up with technology simply by tapping into their previous educational well. That may help you sustain a competent level of troubleshooting ability, but you’ll soon see your businesses effectiveness dwindle.
I say keep learning. Subscribe to industry forums and blogs. Read the latest tech literature. Re-certify yourself every few years. Network with other technicians and take time to “talk shop”. None of these are a silver bullet that will keep you ahead of the game. They must all be a constant part of your life in order to ensure your continued effectiveness.
Learn To Take Time Off – This might seem like a no brainier. In fact, the reason why many quit their job to start their own business is so that they can be afforded the freedom to take time off whenever they choose. But in my experience,this is one of the most overlooked traits on the list. When working for yourself, you don’t have the luxury of allotted vacation time or sick leave. It’s easy to get caught up in your work. If you don’t plan properly, you’ll soon find that you can’t afford to take time off. That time you’re away will be lost profit.
You have to make sure you save and plan for an expected, or unexpected, temporary hiatus. In fact, I would argue that it’s necessary to take some time off every year to unwind and decompress. I know a few independent computer consultants who have left the game because they got burned out. Avoid burn out and stay in the game for the long haul by making yourself take time off.
Experiment Wisely – I see two types of people that don’t make it too far in computer consulting: those who stubbornly stick to the same old methods of doing things, and those that experiment so wildly, they loose focus. Since there is already a strong push towards experimentation in business these days, I’m going to stick with the other extreme.
Beware the trappings of over-experimentation. This is when those super-driven highly motivated techs out there feel like they have to constantly try all of the latest trends in marketing and computer repair. This is fine, to a certain extent. When you never stick with what works, you miss out on the value of experimentation. Wise experimentation means making sure you’re constantly gathering metrics when you try a new tactic to see if the methods you’re using are helping to improve your situation. If so, great, keep them up. If not, move on to the next one. I’ve been surprised by how many people I’ve seen who just bounce from one thing to the next, never taking the time to focus and refine the things that work.
Many of your competitors are probably lacking these skills, but if you hone them, you’ll to gain an edge over those other computer guys in your neighborhood. Concentrate on being a friendly neighborhood computer guy, not jut the typical jaded computer tech that everyone dreads, and you’ll be one step ahead of most of your competition.
Edit: I changed the title from 5 Overlooked Characteristics Of A Successful Computer Guy to 5 Overlooked Characteristics Of A Successful Computer Consultant, because I wanted to make the distinction that this article pertains to independent computer consultants, and not every “computer guy”.